Often, many of the problems children face might be due to the lack of just one thing - sleep.
Changing lifestyles, increased exposure to digital gadgets, eating habits, nutritional deficiencies, and many other factors have led children to sleep lesser than ever before. Today, India is sleep-deprived, adults and children alike.
But, this sleep deprivation in children requires immediate attention because the childhood years are when most of the growth happens, and most of it takes place when children sleep.
Why is Sleep Important for Children?
After a long day of activity, it is only through sleep that the brain & brain relaxes and restores the spent energy. Similar to adults, children also need to sleep to gain energy so that they can function the next day. They also need to sleep because most of the growth and development happens when children are asleep. It is also why children need a lot more sleep in their early years than adults.
Children who sleep well can perform well academically as well and on an interpersonal level too and are much more emotionally stable than sleep-deprived children.
Studies have shown that children who sleep well can focus better, display emotional stability, have better problem-solving and decision-making skills, have a good memory, and have adequate energy levels.
What Happens When Children Do Not Sleep Well?
When children do not sleep well, they cannot perform to their maximum potential and might underperform in school. As compared to children getting the required amount of sleep, sleep-deprived children find it difficult to concentrate, they may have mood swings or be irritable, and they might also be hyperactive, and can also resemble symptoms of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperkinetic Disorder) in children.
Sleep deprivation has also been linked to night terrors, nightmares, sleepwalking, and bedwetting. So, if your child displays any of these symptoms, it might be time to take a notebook and start tracking their sleep to see if they have been receiving the required amount of sleep.
Sleep-deprived children might also suffer from anxiety and depression at an early age. You might find them worrying about exams, getting irritated, or even obsessing over matters with their friends.
Not getting enough sleep can even lead to chronic conditions. These conditions might not be visible immediately, but major studies have shown a direct causal relationship between sleep deprivation and diabetes, heart diseases, heart attacks and strokes, high blood pressure, and irregular heartbeat.
Not getting enough sleep also weakens the immune system and makes children susceptible to diseases and infections.
Teens who do not sleep well are also more likely to be rebellious or might display self-harming or suicidal tendencies.
What Causes Sleep Deprivation in Children?
There are multiple reasons that could make children sleep deprived.
These can range from simple reasons like a noisy bedroom to serious factors like anxiety or ADHD. Some children might also not sleep well because of unusual bladder activity. If your child is sleep-deprived, there could be many reasons for the same. You first need to evaluate the environment they sleep in, their diet, and even their activity throughout the day.
Did you know that children do not sleep well even when they are over exhausted? It acts against the logic that children will sleep well when they are tired from physical activity. Instead, such children are more likely to become hyperactive or throw tantrums around bedtime.
What your child eats throughout the day could also be one of the factors that your child does not get enough good quality sleep. Is their diet high in processed food and sugar? Do they consume caffeinated beverages? Certain foods create havoc in the nervous system of children make them hyperactive.
Children can also be sleep deprived due to medical conditions like restless leg syndrome, high BMI, sleep apnea, and others. Try to rule out the causes by checking your child's diet, activity, and lifestyle, and also consult a doctor to understand the exact cause, if needed.
How Do You Know That Your Child Is Sleep Deprived?
It is not very difficult to detect if a child needs more sleep. Their behavior, emotional stability, and performance at school are good indicators of whether everything is well.
Here are some signals you should look out for:
- Difficulty waking up and falling asleep after being woken up.
- Taking naps in the day or falling asleep while doing homework.
- Lack of interest in physical activities or lethargy.
- Yawning throughout the day.
- Moodiness, irritability, or unexplained crying and throwing tantrums.
- Inability to focus and memorize things.
- Finding it difficult to recollect things from memory.
- Craving for sweets and carbohydrates.
- Dark circles around the eyes.
Just like adults, children may get cranky if they do not sleep well. Some of the symptoms that children display are also quite similar to that of adults.
How can You Help Your Child Sleep Well?
One of the reasons that children these days do not sleep well is their increased exposure to screens and the lack of discipline. Parents often allow children to stay up late, way past the standard bedtime and let children sleep late into the mornings. This creates havoc in their circadian rhythm and wreaks the sleep cycle.
If you notice that your child is sleep-deprived, instead of rushing to the doctor at the first instance, you can practice sleep hygiene at home and see how your child responds to it.
- Talk to them about the importance of sleep. This is the most important step.
- Do not use sleep as a method of reinforcing good behavior. Never use sleep as a reward or deprive them of sleep as a punishment.
- Ensure that the bed your child sleeps in is comfortable and not too soft or too hard.
- Make them sleep in a dark/dimly lit room with no disturbance.
- Make the bedroom a no-device zone.
- Do not allow screen time at least an hour before going to bed.
- Inculcate the habit of reading books before going to sleep.
- Do not give sugary or caffeinated food items in the evening close to bedtime.
- Make sure there is a gap of at least an hour before sleeping after a heavy meal.
- Ensure they consume a balanced diet that fulfills their nutritional requirements.
- Set a good example by sleeping early and waking up on time.
- Help them establish a bedtime routine. It helps send signals to the brain that it is time to sleep.
- Encourage them to use the washroom before they go to bed.
It is a good practice for parents to keep track of their children's sleeping schedules, once in a while to ensure that their child is not sleep deprived. Once you notice that your child is sleep-deprived, evaluate their lifestyle, their habits, their sleeping environment and see if you can remedy it at home. If the problem persists, you must seek professional help to identify any medical reasons for the same.